by Thalif Deen
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS --
UN security is so "dysfunctional" that it provides little or no protection for staff members in Iraq or in other high-risk UN missions and peacekeeping operations worldwide, a four-member independent panel reported Wednesday.
The panel was established last month to review security in Iraq after the Aug. 19 bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad in which 22 staffers, including the top diplomat, died and more than 150 were injured, many severely.
"The United Nations has become the target of armed elements that are ready to use terror tactics to inflict damages to the organization," the panel's report said. "A new strategy on security must be developed to face this and other high-risk environments."
Former Finnish president and panel head Martti Ahtisaari told reporters that UN employees who have dedicated themselves as humanitarian workers and peacekeepers overseas don't want to work out of "bunkers."
"If the security situation is bad, they should not be there," he added. "They cannot work with a bunker mentality."
During its probe, the panel spoke to a large number of UN security staff and other employees, in New York, Amman, Baghdad and Geneva, as well as representatives of the U.S.-led occupation force's Coalition Provisional Authority and of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Its members also visited the site of the attack and collected information on ongoing investigations by the CPA and the Iraqi police.
Since the attack the United Nations has reduced its international staff in Baghdad to about 15, from 300 to 500 before the bombing.
The staffers were working for several UN agencies, including the World Food Program (WFP), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Development Program (UNDP).
The United Nations has not made major changes to security around the UN compound since the attack, the primary reason cited by Secretary-General Kofi Annan for not sending international staff back to Baghdad.
According to the panel report, "currently, the only potential source of adequate security arrangements is the coalition forces."
Last week, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a U.S.-sponsored resolution that calls for an increased humanitarian role for the United Nations in Iraq.
But the Baghdad bombing took place at a time when the United Nations was distancing itself from the U.S. military occupation of Iraq.
However, some observers, like Denis Halliday, a former UN assistant secretary-general who was in charge of the UN's oil-for-food program in Iraq, thinks the world body has a blemished reputation in the country.
Although there is no justification for killing UN staff, Halliday told IPS after the attack, "we must remember that many people in the region and in Iraq are rightly very angry with the United Nations for collaborating with the illegal U.S.-U.K. invasion."
Iraqis have also not forgotten that UN sanctions were responsible for the deaths of more Iraqis than the numbers killed under three U.S. presidents since the first Gulf War in the 1990s, added Halliday.
The 40-page panel report says "there is no place without risk in Iraq." But it argues that the United Nations was "unprepared to work in these circumstances," primarily because "it failed to provide adequate security to UN staff."
The panel has refused to hold anyone accountable for the tragedy, which claimed the life of UN Under-Secretary-General Sergio Vieira de Mello, who headed humanitarian operations in Baghdad.
Ahtisaari, a former UN under-secretary-general himself, said Annan and other UN agency heads must make a "serious commitment" to ensure the physical and moral safety of UN staff on overseas missions.
He pointed out that member states are primarily responsible for UN missions overseas because they mandate the United Nations to take them on. "But ultimately the buck stops with the secretary-general."
In a statement released Wednesday, Annan said that Ahtisaari's report will be "closely studied and steps taken to ensure early implementation of its main recommendations."
Guy Candusso of the UN Staff Council told IPS that "managers who were negligent and incompetent" should be held accountable for the security breach in Iraq. This applies to managers at all levels -- both in Baghdad and in New York, he added.
"The report of the independent panel is a damning indictment of the organization's attitude towards the security of its staff," said the council's standing committee on the security and independence of the international civil service, in a statement released Wednesday.
"But while it points to gross negligence and massive shortcomings in the security management system, the report fails to hold anyone accountable," the statement added.
The real problem, it said, lies with the failures of management to adhere even to the existing security system.
"The investigation into the Iraqi bombing must not end here. This report raises more questions than it answers with regard to the responsibility of senior UN officials, and should be recognized as the beginning of a thorough and transparent investigative process," the committee said.
It added that it supports the panel's view that the "seriousness of the breaches in the UN security rules and procedures in the field and at headquarters warrants a separate and independent audit process."
The core elements of a new security strategy recommended by the panel include: an in-depth review and reform of the UN security system by independent professionals; clear guidance by and clear responsibilities of the United Nations to ensure the security of its staff; and accountability at all managerial levels for the implementation of security regulations.
The panel's other members are: Peter Fitzgerald, deputy commissioner of the national police of Ireland; Brigadier-General Jaakko Oksanen of the Finnish Army, and Claude Bruderlein, director of the program on humanitarian policy and conflict research at Harvard University.
October 25, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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